BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Nearly $3,000,000 will be funding Bakersfield’s traffic safety enhancements, including pedestrian and bicyclist road protections, in areas officials found those improvements most needed.
The funding comes from the nearly $8,000,000 total the Bakersfield City Council approved last week for road improvements across town. These projects — five total, as of now — passed on a 4-2 vote, with councilmembers Ken Weir and Patty Gray dissenting.
Other projects include roadway renovations, such as sewer rehabilitation.
While city officials say road improvements are nothing new to Bakersfield, they say they’re now focusing on traffic calming.
“Bakersfield is historically seen as an area that has a lot of accidents and a lot of deaths for vehicle, pedestrian and bicyclist deaths,” said Paul Archer, civil engineer with Bakersfield Public Works.
Archer, who oversees these road improvement projects, added, “We’re looking to change that, and one way to change that is through physical infrastructure changes.”
Archer said he looked through the city’s traffic counts, analysis and accident-related data to confirm certain road improvements were needed.
17 News reached out to both the City of Bakersfield and BPD for road accident and death-related data, but did not receive them by news time. 17 News, however, has been tracking pedestrian fatalities since 2016.
According to our data, there have been more than 300 pedestrian fatalities in Kern County since 2016. There have been at least 35 so far this year. According to city data, 66 fatal motor vehicle accidents occurred in 2022.
Two of the five confirmed projects focus on transportation safety. One project is at the Beale intersection near the Monterey and Niles streets and focuses on making more room for bikes and pedestrians, as well as slowing down traffic.
“[We’re adding] bulb-outs at some of these heavier intersections to reduce the travel distance that pedestrians have to travel at crosswalks,” said Archer. “We’re also introducing bicycle lanes for people to safely travel on their bicycles along these corridors, as well as narrowing down the lane widths in some of these areas.”
Archer previewed that the city is working on a larger project from the 178 in Alta Vista to Virginia Street, where the city-county line is.
Steve Silvas has lived in the area for 50 years and told 17 News he blames speeding for most accidents.
“There are a lot of accidents at the corner, and some of the times, they actually come right through my fence,” Silvas said.
He added that there are plenty of bicyclists and pedestrians in the neighborhood as well, day and night.
A pavement rehabilitation on Manor Street and Union Avenue from Columbus Street to the Kern River Bridge is also for road safety. Archer said the city will be updating markings, enhancing crosswalks and again, creating safer bike paths.
Ward 4 City Councilmember Bob Smith has long been pushing for traffic calming and bicyclist safety. 17 News spoke with him on the corner of Stockdale and Allen, which used to be part of his ward prior to redistricting.
His road safety efforts are in action at this intersection, including through green marks on the asphalt that highlight potential bike and vehicle conflict zones for drivers and bikers.
“We need our streets to be safer,” the councilmember said.
Smith also said he received data from the city manager that Bakersfield has had a rise in fatal motor vehicle collisions since 2018, which has contributed to his concern about how safe the city’s roads are.
Ward 3 Councilmember Ken Weir, on the other hand, told 17 News that the number is general, noting the lack of proof that road conditions are causing such deaths. He also pointed out that although the city has recently spent millions of dollars to increase traffic flow, such as on 24th Street, they’re now trying to calm down traffic.
“It makes no sense,” Weir said. “It is counterproductive.”
Note: 17 News will update this article with road-related statistics as we get them.